First time "doing Christmas" - any tips?

(34 Posts)
DoingTheSwanThing Thu 29-Nov-12 15:04:43

I think this might be the point it which I become a proper grown-up.

Christmas dinner for 14... Yeah. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, can anyone share their years of accumulated wisdom?

How much prep can one get away with doing the night before?
Is pork an acceptable alternative? I'm frightened of whole turkeys so might go for a couple of turkey crowns (or whatever the friendly butcher tells me I need).
And the ultimate question; are sprouts really necessary? <shudder>

dreamingofsun Thu 29-Nov-12 16:02:47

sprouts are evil, one of the good things about being the cook is that we never have them.

the easiest way to cook turkey is to wrap it in a double layer of foil with marg dolloped onto turkey, which is totally sealed so it sort of steams. then you ignore it till about 30 mins before the end and remove foil and baste. if you want i can give you the cooking times. let it sit for at least 30 mins and frees up oven for other things (wrap in foil, put on hotplate, or put towel on top to keep warm)

what sort of family are you? my family is quite happy eating things out of packets - so i don't bother doing the best ever food as its a bit wasted. we have roast pots, cauliflower cheese, some other vege, cranberry (jar), stuffying (which i now make, but would be fine bought), gravy made with powder, sausages/bacon bought, turkey. desert is bought christmas pudding or icecream, or mincepies - all bought and with bought custard or cream.

crowns are ok if everyone likes breast - some prefer leg in our house. its just as easy as pork to cook.

work out cooking times and what time you want to eat and do timing plan.

potential problem is size of your oven and the number of rings you have

where will everyone eat? do you have enough serving dishes, can people bring some, what about cutlery.

make the table look nice, have drinks.

we don't have starter as its too much food and i can't be bothered.

do as much as you can the night before - prep the veg, turkey.

dreamingofsun Thu 29-Nov-12 16:03:57

you have to order a turkey in lots of places. do you just want it for meal or for leftovers day after? don't forget to take any plastic bags out of the inside where the butcher has stuffed the offcuts

FredFredGeorge Thu 29-Nov-12 16:20:30

So as hinted at, the meat needs to rest for at least 30 minutes and can rest for much longer it will stay hot inside foil (and there's gravy to warm it up anyway) so make sure it's ready long in advance to free up the oven for more potatoes (or whatever). Turkey is very much not required, and a crown is fine.

You can prep everything in the roast the night before, including par-steaming (boiling) the potatoes.

Sprouts of course aren't required, they are nice though.

Don't try and go fancy with the veg - just steam and roast them. Whatever your preferences are, just go for wide variety rather than over complicated veg trying to pretend they're something they're not. So roast some swede, parsnip, carrot (they're sweet enough don't fall for the honey garbage!) you can put them in when the meat comes out.

All the roasted things can be delayed without harming them my simply turning down the oven so again don't worry about them for the timing.

Steam a load of green veg, microwave some frozen peas etc. Shouldn't take more than 10 minutes so that's the deciding thing for timing, you can essentially wait for everything else to be just about ready then start them if you're at all unsure about timings.

Granules for gravy will be fine, most will likely prefer it.

Sauces and stuffing - find out if any of the 14 people particularly care about something, if they do, rope them in to do - it'll probably be paxo from their youth anyway.

Don't do a starter - have a breakfast tradition (bacon sarnies maybe? something simple but filling) and provide snacks, starters just complicating and you won't really be able to eat together.

MmeLindor Thu 29-Nov-12 16:25:44

Turkey crown is great, and sprouts are bleaugh.

Prepare veg and potatoes the day before so that you just have to pop them in the oven when you take the turkey out.

Don't go too fancy. Better to do one veg and not be in a panic than try to do 3 different veggies and get all flustered.

Get someone to set the table well in advance, and have a simple starter so you are not running around mad.

I did a blog post on a easy Turkey dinner, I can PM you it if you like.

TotemPole Thu 29-Nov-12 16:35:13

Do you have enough chairs for everyone to sit at the table?

Will everyone eat pork?

dreamingofsun Thu 29-Nov-12 16:43:44

christmas crackers on the table always seems to get the atmosphere going nicely. and we have a special christmas table cloth.

phantomhairpuller Thu 29-Nov-12 17:13:05

Ooh mind if I elbow my way into this post and pinch a few of the fabulous ideas?! I too decided it would be a good idea to do dinner for the first time this year! Why do these things always seem like a good idea at the time? wink

So what exactly do you do to the veg the night before? Spell it out for me, I'm a cooking thicko. Peel, chop, par-boil and then...leave where? In the fridge? In water? Covered?

dreamingofsun Thu 29-Nov-12 17:39:15

peel potatoes and parsnips and leave in cold water, anywhere (i normally put in large bowl or the pans) . I par boil them next day (ie cook for about 10 mins in boiling water till ruff on outside as absorb oil when you roast and makes them cripsier).

suggest frozen veg. but if keen to use fresh, do the same with carrots or whatever.

working out the quanitities might be your trickiest bit as 14 is a lot of people. i'd give this some thought before if i were you, eg working out how many potatoes people will eat.

Do you have the necessary cookbooks? I can highly recommend delia and nigella's Christmas books. If you don't want to buy books you could get the Jamie Oliver magazine for this month as it has the basics in.

Make sure you look through your books and magazines and decide what you want to be a part of your dinner. I think it's the Nigella book that tells you what you can freeze ahead of the day. You can also make mince pies and sausage rolls using ready made pastry and freezing to get out and cook when needed. This means you can have lovely flavoured sausage rolls with whichever herbs you like.

After you've decided what you want to eat write a list. Get a folder and put the list in it!! Use a page per recipe with instructions to yourself, how long each will take and put them in order of what needs doing. Most of the work can be done before Christmas day so it's a case of putting things in the oven on the day itself. Veg can be parboiled the day before and covered in fat or oil (and any herbs and garlic) covered in foil and put in the fridge or garage overnight.

Nigella's poinsettia cocktail is really easy to make and good to serve when people get in and I like the prosciutto crisps in delia's book for a little nibble before the main meal.

I also cook gammon which has been scored and brushed with black treacle on Christmas eve, it gives the best crackling (don't wrap it up or the crackling will go soggy) and will last for an afternoon buffet. If you are doing meat and stuff on the table in the afternoon buy it in so you don't have to prepare it and can relax with lots of wine. Cheese platter, pickles, sausage rolls, gammon, leftover turkey and sausages, crisps, chocolate.

Get good meat!! If you go to a butcher it should be lovely. Don't forget the bacon wrapped sausages!! Cooking the turkey is just like cooking chicken, push flavoured butter under the skin, season, spread some butter on the top, baste a lot. Some people turn it upside down towards the end to get the juices back into the breast but I haven't tried that. Definitely rest it, it will rest for as long as you need to cook all the veg if you can't fit it in.

We do table presents which are just little £5-10 gifts but something to look forward to.

Sorry for the massive post, hope it helps even a little.

whiskeytangofoxtrot Thu 29-Nov-12 17:46:47

<lurkity lurkity lurk>

memphis83 Thu 29-Nov-12 17:53:33

We get a rolled turkey crown from our butcher so once cooked its all sliced evenly. As its then more of a sausage shape I can then get all of my roast parsnips and potatos on same roaster.

nemno Thu 29-Nov-12 18:04:21

I usually do Christmas for 11 but this year it is 17. I prepare veg the day before ie, peel pots, and leave them in water in their saucepan (with lid) outside in the cold until needed. I trim/peel/chop all other veg and put all ready in ziplock bags in the fridge.

Your biggest issues with the cooking is planning how to best use your equipment eg what can the oven do first/how much can fit in and is suitable to be cooked together/what pans are big enough for which purpose. Think this all through and write down. Beg and borrow electric steamers/hot plates/even another (combi) microwave.

Cranberry sauce, bread sauce, gravy (make with giblet stock and add juices once turkey out of roasting pan) can all be made on the day but early. reheat in microwave.

Turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets can be kept hot but potatoes and veg best done last thing.

Get table laying done the day before too, it is amazing how long it takes and you can find extra stuff that you've mislaid or ask people to bring.

And delegate (hopefully to people you don't have to supervise and who are quick and don't get in the way).

And try to keep drinks/glasses etc away from the area you are cooking in.

nemno Thu 29-Nov-12 18:11:10

Oh, and cook ham the day before. Carve some and heat with microwave on serving plate (or even serve at room temp).

2 serving dishes of everything makes getting some on everyones' plates much faster (and thus hotter). Pre warm dishes and plates if poss, I use the cupboard above my built in cooker. I clear it of its usual contents, plan which ones I'll need and put all the dishes in the day before, works beautifully as a warming oven and the dishes are there ready.

BewitchedBotheredandBewildered Thu 29-Nov-12 18:22:18

What they all said, plus, lists, lists, lists. Especially if you have a festive drink while you're cooking. Write a menu of what you're cooking, and then a timetable for when everything has to start cooking in order to be ready together.
I set a timer every time I do a task so I remember to do the next one.
Before I did this we sometimes found pre-prepped veg. two days later!

PavlovtheCat Thu 29-Nov-12 18:30:57

tell yourself that dinner is to be served about 1.5 hours before it is actually due. For some reason we always eat about 1.5 hours later than we intend to! so this is what we have started doing!

drinks, snacks (not anything you need to cook) and some board games set up on another room for people to occupy themselves with, collar the best helpers to chop/clear around you.

Put music on in the kitchen

Laugh. A Lot.

If something is a bit burnt, or is overcooked, or under cooked, doesn't matter (except the meat of course!) there will be plenty enough for people to eat.

psychomum5 Thu 29-Nov-12 18:41:34

I am cooking for 16.

I already have my box of wine in.

That is all I need right ?? grin

ImperialStateKnickers Thu 29-Nov-12 18:45:22

Cooking for twelve. But we all LOVE sprouts.

We are the Strange Family.

Psychomum I see your box of wine and raise you a bottle of Gin!

BewitchedBotheredandBewildered Thu 29-Nov-12 18:48:28

There'd be revolution here if I didn't do tons of sprouts!

psychomum5 Thu 29-Nov-12 18:48:56

<steals said gin to add to my stash>

grin

Happypiglet Thu 29-Nov-12 18:55:19

Well I always roast my turkey (for 16) the day before on Xmas Eve. That way I can carve it, store it in the cool garage, deal with carcass, make stock and clean up all before the day.
This leaves loads of time for roasting potatoes and parsnips. I always have two, three level steamers on the go (I borrow my mums!) for green veg and carrots...nothing fancy. I use packet stuffing mix, but I make bread sauce.....which is dead easy. Gravy granules are fine. I bung in a few bacon rolls with the parsnips to roast. Cranberry sauce from a jar.
Xmas pudding is always a ready made microwave job which I set fire to with brandy! Which frightens the bejeebers out of DH!
I always peel all veg day before as well and store under water in pans.
It just means that on the day I can enjoy my family and not stress about getting up mega early to get the turkey on....

Lifeisontheup Thu 29-Nov-12 19:40:23

Cranberry sauce can be made days in advance, can be frozen as can stuffing if necessary, get some posh ready made gravy even if you plan to make your own then a last minute disaster of lumps or just forgetting to do it/washing up the roasting tin too soon can be easily rectified.
All veg can be peeled the night before, just cover with cold water.
I use an electric steamer for the veg as no worries about over cooking/ pan boiling dry etc. Christmas pud goes in the slow cooker first thing and then you can forget about it until time to serve.
Oh and relax and enjoy the day. smile

DoingTheSwanThing Thu 29-Nov-12 20:56:44

Wow, thanks everyone thanks

I think I might now be leaning towards whole turkey (how big would it have to be... It'll fit in a standard oven, right?). The pork or crown was DF's suggestion (ex-chef hence high standards) on the basis that it'd be easier to carve/portion and not as prone to over-cooking. I've only been eating meat for the last year or so after 15+ as veggie so not entirely confident with the meat. Either way, I plan on doing a trial-run with a smaller one. Must get whatever ordered from butcher ASAP!

If turkey, I could lob a gammon in the slow cooker first thing in case anyone wants an alternative/ evening snack.

Wasn't planning any starters. The plan was to do a ham & serve with crusty rolls & cheese & biscuits fro evening. I think realistically lunch will be 2/3pm and judging from past years probably be 90mins+ to eat so neither side of the family seem to bother with big evening meal.

Thanks for the veg in water trick, that'd definitely make life much easier. Do you loose any flavour from the veg that way?
Will also buy back-up gravy granules!
Chestnut stuffing will be made before. My lot seem to like sprouts. Dad does something fancy with them and serves with chestnuts which I do adore so I suppose I should show willing!

I think this calls for a very large to-do list.

Logistically we should be ok, large kitchen/diner. 8- seat dining table, 4 more chairs in shed, camping table from parents on the end and borrow more chairs from ILs. Lurvely range cooker with 7 burners & 2 ovens so can get several roasting tins in <reminds self to visit Ikea>. The warming bit is small though, might have to give that a bit more thought.

MmeLindor yes please, that'd be brilliant smile

It's only a roast dinner. It's only a roast dinner. It's. A. Roast. Dinner.

<runs off to buy Jamie Oliver mag>

MmeLindor Thu 29-Nov-12 22:02:27

Have PMed you, Doing.

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